What do ethical labels really mean?


Last night Aerende took part in a Twitter chat hashtagged #ethicalhour. It’s a subject that has really got me thinking. What does the word ethical really mean?

 I turned to the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines it thus: “Of or relating to moral principles, esp. as forming a system, or the branch of knowledge or study dealing with these.” But moral principles are pretty broad. And one person’s moral compass will not be the same as another’s; few vegans will want to buy our leather-bound notebooks, even if they provide employment for out-of-work veterans and are made from offcuts of British grown and tanned skins.

So many organisations, websites and shops use the word ethical without any indication of what those ethics may entail (is it local, fair trade, recyclable, biodegradable?) that the word’s meaning has been diluted. If I’m honest, I’m often cynical when I do see something described as ethical/sustainable. It’s hard not to wonder what is being covered up by the use of some SEO-friendly words rather than a more transparent description. Official accreditations don’t help much, given that they are often paid for rather than awarded.

For our part at Aerende, we feel being ethical is not only about being true to our main goals – to create a truly desirable homewares collection that champions marginalised makers and craftspeople. It’s about honesty. It won’t always be possible to adopt the most environmentally friendly or fairly traded way of doing things (anyone who has ever looked into the cost/complications of eco buttons, or of paying people who are not legally allowed to live in the UK, as I have been doing this week, will vouch for that). But we do pledge to be clear and transparent about what our products are made from. We will tell you where they are made and who by. We will engage with you if you ask us a question about provenance or process. And we’ll always try to do better. To us, that is what ethical means.

But what does it mean to you? We’d love to hear your views. Do you care about the ethical label? Does it add value to the product, even without any other info? Do you wonder about whether ceramics are bad for the world? And whether wood is always good (hint: no)? Would you prioritise organic materials over local ones? We are working on our product descriptions now and would love to incorporate your feedback into them. Just hashtag #lifeimprovinghomewares and we can all be part of the conversation.


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